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Tim Blagg

Blagg: A loving response

Way out in Topeka, Kan., just down the street from a McDonald’s and a Sonic Drive-in, sits a tidy white ediface called the Westboro Baptist Church. Hanging from one end of the building is a banner inscribed “godhatesamerica.com.”

Across the street, down from the neat row of cherry trees, someone has painted their house with rainbow stripes, symbolizing gay pride.

The church is the headquarters of a small extended family group nationally known for its extreme ideology and excessive demonstrations against gay people.

Especially odious have been the anti-gay protests at military funerals, but the organization has also picketed celebrity funerals and conducted other public events that are likely to generate media attention. Protests have also been held against Jews and Catholics, and some protests have included church members jumping up and down on the American flag.

Back in March, its long-time pastor and putative leader, Fred Phelps, died. Presumably he’s met his maker and received his just reward for a lifetime of spewing hate.

Let’s hope so.

But that didn’t stop the church from recently trekking out to Amherst, in the philosophical heart of the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, to protest the decision by UMass basketball player Derrick Gordon to come out as a gay player.

My initial reaction to the whole thing was to hope that everyone just ignored them.

After all, they are a handful of ignorant Jayhawkers who don’t represent anyone but themselves. Certainly, even those Americans who are unhappy with the idea of same-sex marriage or the gay lifestyle don’t espouse screaming hate at the relatives of recently deceased American servicemen and women.

Or carrying signs at those funerals reading: “Thank God for IEDs” or “Thank God for 9-11.”

So, I reasoned, if they showed up and nobody cared, wouldn’t they just slink back to the prairies with their ideological tails between their legs?

It’s all about outrage and publicity and raising money from their nutty followers, so lack of reaction is poison to them.

But when the anti-Westboro rallies actually happened, they were kind of neat.

As a story on MassLive put it, “As thousands flocked to the Fine Arts Center to organize their peaceful march into the heart of campus, it became clear that the focus and energy of those gathered was not directed at the Westboro group. Wednesday’s message of peace, love, equality and acceptance was about something more, something greater.

“It was Gordon’s courageous and important decision to free himself that served as the catalyst to bring the many cheering and smiling faces together on campus. But nor was Gordon the main event.

“Instead, the UMassUnited rally attended by over 2,000 supporters was about the larger LGBTQ community as a whole. They came carrying signs and flags. They came wearing pins and face paint. They came chanting, singing and laughing.

“But most importantly, they came, in the end, not to repel Westboro Baptist Church hate with more anger, but to instead spread love and inclusion.”

That was well written, and, I think, an accurate portrayal of the scene.

The “protesters” forgot about Westboro and concentrated on their own sense of inclusion and, well, love.

And eventually, the hate mongers did slink out of town.

Right on.

Blagg has been Editor of The Recorder since 1986. He lives in Greenfield and is a military historian with an interest in local history. He can be reached at: tblagg@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 250.

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